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Bauxite price tag put on Cockpit Country

Published:Friday | October 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM
A section of the Cockpit Country in Trelawny. FILE

Petre Williams-Raynor, Contributing Editor

WHILE THE public waits, the Government is even now mulling the future of Jamaica's Cockpit Country, with an assessment of the area's value to the bauxite industry now in hand.

Information reaching The Gleaner is that a price tag has been attached to each of the contending boundaries for the Cockpit Country - the selection of which is expected to inform the extent to which, if at all, bauxite mining is allowed in the area.

Of the six boundaries proposed, the one advanced by the Cockpit Country Stakeholders' Group - comprised of community and environmental interests - is projected to cost the industry the most, if selected.

That boundary, which includes St Ann, St Elizabeth, St James, and Trelawny, would deny access to some 300 million tonnes of bauxite, valued at some US$9-billion.

The Ring Road boundary, including Trelawny and St Elizabeth, would deny access to 150 million tonnes or US$4.5 billion worth of the ore, while losses incurred from the selection of the Sweeting/University of the West Indies (UWI) boundary are projected at US$4.2 billion or 140 million tonnes of bauxite.

The Maroon boundary, which also takes in Trelawny and St Elizabeth, would amount to US$3 billion in losses or 100 million tonnes of bauxite, while the Forestry Reserve boundary would herald a loss of US$0.45 billion or 15 million tonnes.

The boundary proposed by the Jamaica Bauxite Industry is projected to have the least impact on access to bauxite resources, with losses estimated at US$0.30 billion or 10 million tonnes.

But beyond the key biodiversity area's value to the bauxite industry is its value to Jamaica's water resources and at a time when the island is facing water scarcity due in part to climate-change impacts.

It is a fact that could put the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (MSTEM), which The Gleaner has learnt is for the selection of the Forestry Reserve boundary, on a collision course with the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment, and Climate Change.

"It is to remain as is for a variety of reasons, but chief of which is that it is responsible for a high percentage of the water in the surrounding areas, and as I understand it, the agency that wants to impinge on the Cockpit Country is about bauxite. Bauxite deposits are all over the island elsewhere, so go and deal with that," Environment Minister Robert Pickersgill told The Gleaner at the recent Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association Conference in The Bahamas.

On adjusting his current outlook, Pickersgill said: "As the minister in charge of the environment, I am sensitively aware of the fight between development and the protection of the environment, and they would have to be able to demonstrate at the end of the day why pursuing the Cockpit Country to exploit bauxite is better, even in economic terms, than keeping it that way. I am not persuaded."

Buffer zone

Colonel Oral Khan, chief technical director in the ministry, said Tuesday that they are to meet with their counterparts at MSTEM on the issue.

At the same time, he revealed that his ministry was for having a boundary beyond the area of the Forestry Reserve, which they regard as the core.

"We are interested in having a buffer zone to protect the core (Forest Reserve) of the Cockpit Country. That is the position which our ministry is prepared to defend. No final decision has been made, so I can't get any more specific than that," Khan said.

He did, however, reveal that the report done by the Centre for Environmental Studies at the UWI, following their conduct of a series of public consultations on the boundaries last year, had informed his ministry's position.

The report, written by Professor Dale Webber and Dr Claudel Noel, recommends, among other things, that the official boundary for the Cockpit Country should be comprised of a core, a transition zone and an outer boundary". And the core, it said, "must be the centre of the best primary forest within the Cockpit Country".

Meanwhile, the Cockpit Country's value is more than the sum of its bauxite deposits and vast freshwater resources. It's rich cultural history which tells the story of the Maroons and its sheer natural beauty aside, it is also home to several species of endemic Jamaican flora and fauna and offers multiple ecosystem services.

Those services include plant pollination and vector control, a service offered by, for example, bats in the area; the provision of wood for fuel and yam sticks for agriculture purposes; and carbon storage and climate regulation, given its provision of forest cover.